Tuck’s Takes: Miscues aplenty in forgettable opener
CHAMPAIGN, Ill., -- With just over four minutes left in regulation, and the game well out of reach, Joey Brassch barreled through the Illini defense for a six-yard gain on a 3rd-and-2 to extend the Cowboys' final drive of the afternoon.
Why was that play significant?
It was Wyoming's first third-down conversion on 12 attempts. Way too little, way too late.
Brassch would fumble two snaps later. That meant victory formation for the home team.
There were plenty of reasons not to love what you witnessed during the Cowboys' lopsided 38-6 setback Saturday in Champaign. The passing game is still a mess, the defense allows too many explosive plays and special teams, mainly punting on this day, continues to be inconsistent.
Hey, this team is young, the third-most inexperienced in all of college football, according to ESPN. Nine players -- three on offense and six on defense -- made their first-career start in this one. Nineteen of these guys played their first game ever in a Wyoming uniform.
Mistakes are bound to happen. Craig Bohl admitted as much in his weekly press conference.
While blunders, gaffes and errors are imminent, what this unproven bunch doesn't need is its own coaching staff to aid in the misery. That happened far too many times in this latest loss.
"Our guys are trying, we just didn't play very well," Wyoming's ninth-year head coach bluntly said postgame. "And we didn't coach very well."
You mean like punting from your own 49-yard line on a 4th-and-2 while trailing by 11 in the third quarter? Or how about actually going for it on fourth on the ensuing possession only to have your quarterback hurry to the line and plunge forward into a stacked box?
No call was more inexplicable than this one, though.
Facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 8-yard line late in the first quarter, quarterback Andrew Peasley took the shotgun snap, turned to his right and stuck the ball in the belly of running back Titus Swen. UW's junior running back looked for an opening on the short side of the field. There wasn't one. The Fort Worth product lowered his head and bulldozed his way to the five.
The play was D.O.A. from the minute it was conceived.
The Cowboys instead settled for a 22-yard field goal off the right foot of John Hoyland.
When asked about that specific play, Bohl spoke of chaos on the sideline because of players going down with cramps. Then he offered this up.
"We did feel like we were running the ... we were moving them off the ball," he said. "That was part of it. I remember (offensive coordinator) Tim (Polasek) saying, 'you know, we got a shot.'"
There was no shot.
Why was that mistake so critical?
Consider this. Illinois returned the opening kickoff 43 yards. Running back Chase Brown outraced the Cowboys down the sideline for 38 yards on the first play from scrimmage. The second snap, Brown hauled in a 14-yard touchdown strike from Tommy DeVito to give the Illini a 7-0 lead just 41 seconds into the game.
After a pair of three-and-outs from the visitors -- which included 14 total yards of offense and five straight incompletions -- Illinois was once again on the move. It went 43 yards in 12 plays. A holding penalty and a pair of misfires from DeVito stalled the drive. A missed field goal from 42 yards out gave Wyoming a glimmer of hope.
Despite that disastrous first 10 minutes of the season, Peasley and Co. actually had a chance to tie this one up. A chance to grab momentum. A chance to potentially change this outcome.
"You know, I trust coach Polasek and his play calling," said Peasley, who finished the afternoon 5-of-20 for 30 yards and an interception. "You know, we have a really good back, and that's the chance he took."
Bohl, oddly calm after this loss, said he believes in the resolve of this roster and staff.
"You know, we have to take accountability as coaches," he said. "And our players need to take accountability as players, too. If you want to play against these types of opponents, then you've got to perform. Maybe the want-to is there, but the competency, as a whole, wasn't."
Well said, coach.
Illinois 38, Wyoming 6
A new rallying cry
"Learn from it, move on and drop it."
That's what Easton Gibbs plans on telling the defense after film study on Monday. The sophomore linebacker, who made the move from the weakside to the middle this offseason, emphasized how important it is to not let a loss like this turn into two, three and so on.
In 2021, a setback at Air Force turned into a four-game losing streak that included a home shutout at the hands of Fresno State and an unforgivable setback inside War Memorial Stadium against lowly New Mexico.
Gibbs says he learned his lesson.
"Obviously losing isn't what you want to do," he said. "It's not what we came here to do. And last year, I think we all had that sour taste in our mouth from that long stretch we went on. I mean, it feels good to win and we want to win. So, I think just coming into practice, like I said, it's refocusing on the next week really pushing forward. Now we know what we need to work on."
Gibbs, along with Peasley, Cole Godbout and Treyton Welch, were named team captains earlier in the week. They were all singing the same tune postgame in Champaign.
"I think this was a big wake-up call," Godbout said. "I think our guys are going to really take this to heart ... We might have been slacking in practice a little bit because, you know, we thought we were ready. And clearly (we weren't) and it showed today. So I think this is going to be a big wake-up call that we needed."
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Welch, a junior tight end, said this team is more together than it ever has been during his three-plus years in Laramie. His focus will be on keeping spirits up this week.
"I think it's very important because I told them before the game, you know, we've been through a lot together even though we are one of the youngest teams in the country," he said, adding that in a team meeting Friday he asked teammates to raise their hand if they were on the 2019 Arizona Bowl squad or went through the pandemic season. "... I told them, you know, the difference between us and Illinois today will be the fact that we love each other. You know, we've had some guys go down in practice and we've all felt it more than I think we ever have."
While not many gave the Pokes a chance to walk into Illinois and come away with a win -- Vegas had them as 14-point underdogs -- you have to like the attitude and mindset of this group. How many wins will come this fall? Your guess is as good as mine. But this team is winning and losing together.
"I think that's the most important thing right now," Peasley said. "I went in the locker room, and as much as I want to put my head down and be upset about today and my performance and our performance, you know, I just went around and started hugging people. I think that we have a lot of potential. I feel like we didn't get to show it today."
There's no dancing around it -- Peasley had a rough day at the office.
In his UW debut, he completed just five balls. He threw an interception. It easily could've been three. The Utah State transfer showed glimpses of what he can do with his legs, rushing for 76 yards on eight attempts.
But we've seen this movie before.
When Bohl said before the 2021 season that the offense would be "reengineered," he wasn't referring to throwing the ball 30-plus times an outing. The goal is higher completion percentages from his signal caller. He didn't get that today.
"We certainly need to be more competent in the passing game," he said. "I think the numbers bear out exactly what I saw, you know, whether it's errant throws or not coming up with contested balls or some poor decisions. We had emphasized a significant amount in the passing game and that did not show up today. So we have to take a hard look at that."
Does that mean this QB competition is re-opened?
"I'm not going to overreact," he said, adding that he wants to review the tape. "We're going to have to take a hard look ... There's some decisions that Andrew made that were good and there were some decisions that were poor. And I was pretty pointed with him on the sideline about that. He's a tough competitor."
Peasley will be the first to tell you he had a bad day.
"No, not really," he said when asked if he was pressing throughout this game. "I stuck to my game plan and my reads. I think I was inaccurate on a few balls and then, you know, I just don't think things went our way all around. I wish I could go back and make the throws that I missed."
Peasley should be under center Saturday when the Cowboys host Tulsa in Laramie. This outing was brutal, no doubt, but there's plenty of blame to go around.
Welch, who couldn't come up with a catch in the end zone late in the first half, shouldered blame. He also says he still believes in Peasley.
"Yeah, I absolutely do. I think, you know, we need to hold ourselves accountable," he said. "But I think Andrew Peasley is a guy that forgets what happened and goes forth to the next play. I think we just need to let him loose a little bit more and just let them throw the ball. If a play goes bad then just let them go out there and throw another one."